August 28, 2007

green home projects

i'd like to welcome another guest poster to sew green!

kyra . she commented on a post a while back and we began chatting - once i found out what she did for a living i asked if she'd want to write a guest post for us. and lucky for us she said YES. she's also an amazing photographer - as her flickr stream will attest. with out further ado - here's kyra's post ::

With the long weekend coming up and summer swimming by ever so quickly, the time is ripe to tackle a few of those household projects. While you’re making plans, here are a few ways to ensure a healthy and conscious home.

o Visit an architectural salvage yard. Not only are you reducing demand on the myriad resources required for harvesting, manufacturing, packaging and transportation, these treasures are often a huge bargain and offer unique character to your space. *Don’t forget your tape measure and a thorough list of needs, or you will likely be so overwhelmed with the assortment of pretty elements that you will forget what you came for {like me}.

o Think local. For all the same reasons that you try to eat locally grown food, you should look for locally harvested and manufactured materials. Consider what types of resources have a local industry and make sure that your products actually come from there. Great candidates to look for include concrete, brick, stone, wood, tile, and even carpet if you’re in the Southeast United States. This does get tricky with a few materials known particularly for their sustainability, such as bamboo and cork. While bamboo has a great green reputation, remember that it is traveling a very long distance to arrive in the US.

o Ask yourself how long it will take for a product to regenerate. This is partially where the aforementioned bamboo and cork get their fine reputations. They can grow a new product in ten years or less. Other great examples are sisal, wool, cotton, and agriboards. Agriboard are composite wood-like products made form agricultural byproducts such as wheatboard, sunflower board, Dakota burl and Kirei {so lovely}! In addition to their rapid renewability, these each add a soft natural elegance to any atmosphere.

o Seek products containing recycled materials . Do you sort your recyclables at home? Take advantage of the next link in the chain! Decking, cotton and cellulose insulation, ‘pop-bottle’ carpet, and glass tile are common products, and don’t forget about structural steel, concrete, brick, roofing and even drywall that likely utilize post-consumer waste as well.

o Don’t forget to insulate. Among the many, many measures to take for conserving energy {see the tip of the iceberg below}, proper insulation is key. Any opportunity you get to stuff some extra buffer in any wall space, take it. Look for cracks around windows and doors and pay attention to drafts and seal them with caulking to reduce air leakage. Cotton and cellulose insulation are two great non-toxic, sustainable insulations that won’t leave you itchy, coughing, and are made of rapidly renewable and recycled materials. If you are adding new exterior walls, structurally insulated panels (SIPS) and insulated concrete forms (ICFs) offer a preferable alternative to wood studs and insulation. SIPS are a core of foam insulation sandwiched between two layers of oriented strand board and ICFs are a combination of polystyrene foam and concrete. Both offer more uniform coverage and go up in a jiffy (pick your pro wisely).

o High Performance in a nutshell. Essentially this means utilizing efficiency to the max. It’s important to incorporate these concepts early in your design. If you truly are starting fresh from the ground, orient your home to take advantage of the sun’s energy (also known as passive solar). Use high performance windows, solar panels, energy efficient lighting (fixtures and bulbs), appliances, and choose low-flow faucets and toilets . Opt for light colors when replacing a roof, walkway, driveway, or other solid groundcover to lessen heat absorption.

o Clean air inside and out: did you know that despite strict air quality regulations for the outside atmosphere, there are none for interior air quality?! Adhesives, sealants, paints, plastics, and composite materials among others can off-gas at room temperature, releasing harmful toxins into the air. These off gases are commonly referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Thanks to industry improvements, a plethora of alternatives exist which are considerably healthier. Some labels volunteer the VOC content of their products right on the packaging but many do not. For complete information, ask for a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or research the product online. The lower the VOC content the better; solvent-free, water-based and formaldehyde free are good catch phrases indicating some reduction in chemical content (but always read the rest of the label!). If a manufacturer will not disclose the information, there is probably a reason. , Greenseal is a great website listing many products who have earned their approval for acceptable components. Watch closely for urea-formaldehyde in composite wood and other agriboard products. Phenol formaldehyde is less likely to off-gas at room temperature but if you can avoid it, do.

Overall, it’s about making decisions that work well with your project. Planning is essential, and it’s good to know that some products may not be readily available at your local hardware store and they may need to order it for you (and you should hound them until they do). Two favorite reference books of mine are Prescriptions for a Healthy House by Paula Baker Laporte , Erica Elliott, and John Banta and Green Remodeling by David Johnston and Kim Master. Now sit back and enjoy your new space with a smile!

-- Kyra is a sustainability consultant living and working in the beautiful Front Range of Colorado. When not assisting design teams with creating environmentally sound structures, she is either making things or playing outside.

thanks kyra!!

August 19, 2007

write your congress{wo}man

Hi everyone - this is actually a guest post from my DAD :). he's definitely one of the reasons why i was excited to join sew green. he has continually been interested in environmentalism. he also has roots in activism - and asked if he could write something for us. i was thrilled. thanks dad!


I am sure that this is no surprise to the readers of this blog but recent reports have found that the estimates of changes due to global warming have been seriously understated. For example:

Science magazine reported in March that Antarctica and Greenland are both losing ice overall, about 125 billion metric tons a year between the two of them — and the amount has accelerated over the last decade. To put that in context, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (the most unstable part of the frosty cloak over the southernmost continent) and Greenland together hold enough ice to raise global sea levels by 40 feet or so, although they would take hundreds of years to melt. We hope.

In January, Science reported that actual rises in sea level in recent years followed the uppermost limit of the range predicted by computer models of climate change — meaning that past studies had understated the rise. As a result, the study found that the sea is likely to rise higher than most previous forecasts — to between 50 centimeters and 1.4 meters by the year 2100 (and then continuing from there).

Science Express , the online edition of Science, reported last month that the world’s several hundred thousand glaciers and small ice caps are thinning more quickly than people realized. “At the very least, our projections indicate that future sea-level rise maybe larger than anticipated,” the article declared.

This blog’s attempt at encouraging people to change their daily habits in various ways is an important way to try to help reduce global warming.

But so is writing one’s representatives in government. You can find these people in the United States at the following sites:
write your house representative
write your senator

{ed. note: if anyone knows of how to reach representatives in canada, the UK, austrailia, etc. leave links in the comments. also tell us if you've ever received a response or what your experience has been}

Feel free to copy and paste the three pieces of info noted above into a letter to your Representative and Senators.

While they may have done some work on improving fuel standards for vehicles, tell him/her that they need to do MUCH, MUCH more. Talk about the need to develop alternative fuels, to stop oil companies from ripping us off by not paying the royalties they owe the government, to do more about encouraging the development and the use of public transportation, to not support the development of nuclear energy because of the danger of the waste, etc.

Additionally, keep writing them. A letter once every few weeks asking them about what they are going to do about some environmentally related issue will make them notice that the voters want action. With the convenience of computers one can copy, cut and paste, and send pieces of newspaper or magazine articles with relative ease.

You’ll get a reply. Usually, it will be a canned response extolling what he/she has done about issue x, y, or z. Write him/her back thanking him/her for the reply and then asking him/her what he/she is going to do about issue a, b, or c that he/she did not address in the letter. Politely, but clearly, remind him/her that you expect him/her to keep working on these issues.

Is it worth a few minutes of your time occasionally? I think it is!

August 16, 2007

Green and Tasty Reading


I was just rereading Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer while waiting for the books I've requested to be delivered to my library branch. Prodigal Summer is one of my favorite feel-good novels. And it has strong environmental/sustainability/nature themes. I thought I'd check Barbara's website to see what she has been writing lately, and I found this! Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

I thought our Sew Green friends might be interested. I plan on reading it as soon as I can get it at my local library branch. Hell, I might even buy it, because I have a feeling, in addition to being funny and excellent, it will come in handy.

Copied from her website:

"As the U.S. population made an unprecedented mad dash for the Sun Belt, one carload of us paddled against the tide, heading for the Promised Land where water falls from the sky and green stuff grows all around. We were about to begin the adventure of realigning our lives with our food chain.

Naturally, our first stop was to buy junk food and fossil fuel. . . ."

Hang on for the ride: With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it. Their good-humored search yields surprising discoveries about turkey sex life and overly zealous zucchini plants, en route to a food culture that's better for the neighborhood and also better on the table. Part memoir, part journalistic investigation, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

"This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals and vegetables whose provenance we really knew . . . and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbors, drank the water, and breathed the air."

SO I guess that's two green book recommendations really, a novel and non-fiction by Barbara Kingsolver. Have any of you already read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle?

August 15, 2007

whew! thanks for all the advice. this for me is what makes me happiest to be part of sewgreen! community rocks!


if you are in the l.a. area - this looks worth signing up for - in fact the whole LIVE GREEN program looks great. (i'll be bringing my questions to the Greener Transportation discussion.)

August 9, 2007

car {s}hop

we have been a one car family for 2 years now. we always planned on getting a second vehicle. this is l.a. after all and everyone drives. everywhere. but we found that d could manage with a combo of biking and taking public transit to work. it added an extra half hour or so onto his commute, but he found he was was less stressed, and in better physical shape too. we have been lucky to have an extra car (thanks friends and family!) at our disposal through all this - "just in case" - and it has come in handy when something has come up where i can't pick up the kids in our usual way. a kind of car-share that has worked will in a pinch.

but we are looking now for a second of our own. i think the ideal would be something very fuel efficient with a low carbon footprint. of course. and a camper/van. to ease our weekend getaways and our yearly trip up the coast to canada. and it could also serve as our "just in case" vehicle.

where to look? and how do i decide? oh i do like those hybrids you see all over the place (sam, leslie, you do love yours, don't you? and they are comfy for family outings?). but i keep thinking straight vegetalbe oil (svo), and ultimately waste vegetable oil (wvo), may be the way for us to go. i worry about the impact of the demand for palm oil that biodiesel may cause. of course inroads into pond scum fueling my car sound interesting. and the idea of a used vehicle appeals to me. (converting an older diesel to wvo and practicing the 3 R's as much as possible.) but we do need one reliable vehicle. (again - this is l.a...) we certainly are not waiting for ford and gm's much touted corn ethanol fueled vehicles. (you can read more about "why corn ethanol isn't the answer" here.) i have checked out the top 10 green cars (unfortunately for the uk and many models not available here - but it gives me some ideas.)

i don't like car shopping at the best of times - hence our 2 yr lack of a second vehicle - and all these additional issues begin to overwhelm me - as you can see. oh yes, and of course we are trying to do this on a budget.

so i turned to my "go to girl", and friend alegre, of Green and Greener. she told me:

"From an environmental stand point I’m torn. While I haven’t found CO2 info about burning used veggie oil, I agree that it’s always better for something to get used two or more times before it enters the waste stream. However, I also believe that lowering CO2 emissions is the SINGLE MOST IMPORANT thing we can do right now because of the urgency of global warming. So I’d recommend getting a PRIUS, having it modified to be a full-plug-in (find info here) and then make sure that you are signed up for GREEN POWER with DWP (if you don’t have solar panels) so that the energy you are getting is CO2 emission free."

so there you are. we are looking and thinking and wondering if, as more hybrids come on the market the price will beging to decrease. (perhaps i will still be blogging about this in another two years!)

in the meantime, i have purchased a terrapass for our minivan.

i would love your feedback on this.

wanted: earth-friendly, reliable set of vehicles for family of four. must be willing to commute during the week, enjoy short drives to the beach, and weekends in the mountains as well as yearly drives to the great white north.

any ideas?